The paper birch is considered by many to be one of the most attractive native forest trees in North America and can be an eye-catching ornamental tree when planted in a suitable location. Easily recognized for its peeling white bark, paper birch bark was used as a paper substitute in the past.
Paper birch trees are often associated with the north woods and unspoiled wilderness. Paper birch bark, which can be peeled in large wide strips, was valued by native Indians for its use in the construction of canoes.
Paper birch is the most widely distributed of the native birches. The paper birch is primarily a Canadian species, extending south to the northern 1/3 of Illinois or as far south as North Carolina in higher mountainous regions of the Appalachians. Paper birch will grow best in a cool, moist site.
Paper birch is a fast growing tree, but generally short-lived, rarely living beyond 80 years. The white bark can be highlighted when planted in front of a group of evergreen trees. The ornamental characteristics of paper birch are enhanced by the fact that it is usually grown as a double or multi-trunked tree.
Paper birch has a low tolerance for drought, but can grow in alkaline soils and offers bright yellow leaves in the fall.
The bark of young paper birch trees is brown, gradually turning white with age. The bark of mature paper birch trees peels into long, narrow, horizontal strips that are curled at the ends. The inner bark has a light salmon color. On old trunks the bark is black and furrowed near the ground.
Birch leafminer is a common insect pest of most birch species, including paper birch. Bronze Birch Borer can cause significant damage, or even kill paper birch trees, when they are grown in dry areas or outside their native range.